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Overcoming Creative Blocks

You can watch the Interview here

I had the delightful experience of being interviewed by the lovely and wonderful watercolorist and teacher Angela Fehr. 

In this wide ranging conversation, we explored the inner landscape of overcoming creative blocks, life lessons from art, mindset, how art mirrors life, transitions, experimentation, the “ugly” painting and much more.

You can see what Angela is up to on her website >>> HERE and you can check out her wonderful YouTube videos >>> HERE. 

Angela has a Fearless Artist community where members will be going through The Artist’s Journey book for their July 2019 book club. Join them here >>> http://bit.ly/2WgwHPT

Angela says: To get your copy of The Artist’s Journey Order the book on Amazon.com (affiliate link): https://amzn.to/2MHK9aZ  Don’t forget to leave a review!

Angela Fehr Interviews Nancy Hillis How To Overcome Creative Blocks. Scroll through to see the show. #creativity #artpainting

Angela Fehr Interviews Nancy Hillis How To Overcome Creative Blocks

A Transcript of the Interview

Angela: There are so many life lessons in watercolor I think. It’s really exciting to be able to talk about that and see how it applies. When you learn something in art you can actually apply it to life.

I feel like we’ve kicked off the interview already.

I’m going to pause here so I can introduce you. This is how it goes, as artists we just want to get to the meaty stuff, the business of creation and artist’s mindset.

So I’m here today. I’m Angela Fehr, you know me and you know how much I believe in being a fearless artist, creating art that comes from straight from your heart with passion and purpose and vulnerability and authenticity and I get to talk to a kindred spirit today, Nancy Hillis.

Nancy is an artist, she’s a psychiatrist and she’s written this amazing book The Artist’s Journey which just came out in 2018 or early 2019 and this book inspired me so much that I thought if I could write a book, this is the book I’d write- only she’s doing it much better because you have some expertise, some experience in the whole field of psychiatry which I think is going to be fun to talk about.

I’m just really excited about this book. I’ve been quoting you- my students already know I’ve been quoting you- they’re probably tired of it already- hearing all my little quotes from the book- talking about the adjacent possible, and stepping into the unknowing…

I’m just so honored that you agreed to talk to me today and share some thoughts on artist’s mindset with my audience. We’re primarily watercolor artists, painting watercolor and wanting something more from our art. Most of my students- I love to teach technique, how to have a base of sound technique so you can learn to be creative with it. Often, we find ourselves in this place of transition.

You talk about transition in your book, about making an inner shift. And so before we talk about the book, I’d love to hear a little bit about you and your journey. You are an artist and psychiatrist. Which came first?

Nancy: Well, I think I’ve been a psychiatrist, in some ways, all my life. There are many stories around that but interestingly enough, when I was in seventh grade I told my mother that I was going to be a psychiatrist.

And then I promptly forgot, and went and did different things in drama and chemistry and theatre and all kinds of things I was exploring- and then I did end up going to medical school and I actually started out in internal medicine and radiology, reading x-rays which is very visual.

Eventually, I realized- it came back to me that I was a psychiatrist, that this was my field. And I told my mother I’m switching to psychiatry and she said: “Oh Nancy, don’t you remember?” and I said: “Remember what?” and she said: “You told me you were going to be a psychiatrist when you were thirteen”.

Angela Fehr interviews . Nancy Hillis- Artist, Psychiatrist & Best Selling Author of The Artist's Journey. Click through to see the interveiw.

Angela Fehr interviews Nancy Hillis- Artist, Psychiatrist & Best Selling Author of The Artist’s Journey

Angela: That’s amazing.

Nancy: Yes, so it came back, fifteen years later- so it’s really interesting.

Angela: I’m not, I’ve never been interested in anything in the medical field, I’ve always gone straight to art, so I’m curious about psychiatry- what motivates a psychiatrist? Is it just trying to understand why people do what they do? Why they think the way they think?

Nancy: Yes, so, what’s interesting is…let me just say that when I moved from radiology to psychiatry, this wonderful neurosurgeon (John Shillito) at the Brigham Hospital in Boston said: “Nancy, you’re going from shadows to nuances”.

So it’s the nuances, it’s the mystery- I believe. Psychiatry is really about stepping into the unknown. It’s about doing that with another person and going on this journey together and kind of being a mirror for them so they can look at themselves and their relationships and kind of get at what’s most meaningful to them- at least that’s the kind of psychiatry I do which is existential psychotherapy. It’s really looking at the exigencies of life, and what we grapple with and really deciding what’s important and what’s meaningful and kind of bringing yourself alive in your life.

To me, it’s very connected to what we’re doing as artists.

Nancy Hillis Interviewed by Angela Fehr | How To Overcome Creative Blocks

Nancy Hillis Interviewed by Angela Fehr | How To Overcome Creative Blocks | Scroll through to see the show | #creativity #artpainting


Angela: Well, yeah, it’s so much rooted in your deepest core beliefs and those are often so masked and layered under all our coping mechanisms and the way we think that we think about stuff.

Nancy: Exactly. It’s really wonderful- and for me it was the most creative field of medicine- because it really is about the mystery, the inarticulable – all of those things, it’s sitting there with the person in their humanity and I love that.

And so from there, literally the day I got out of all my training, seven years after medical school, I said “I want to study sculpture” and I looked…and, how do you find a sculpture teacher, right? And I called the local art center in Palo Alto, California where I was at the time and found this wonderful teacher, Adrienne Duncan.

She started teaching me in her home and this story is so powerful…

I said: “Adrienne, I don’t know what I’m doing”

And she said: “Great!”

And I said “Oh wow”. I thought to myself: I’ve found my teacher.

She said: “Just get a 50 lb. bag of clay and come to my house and we’ll start”.

Angela: That sounds really fun. I want to get my hands in that.

Nancy: I know! And from there it went to…Adrienne also happened to paint in watercolor and she also did collage. And so after awhile of working with sculpture, I asked her: “Will you teach me watercolor?” and she said “Sure”…and that began this whole journey of painting, of exploring watercolor for a number of years- which is so magical”

Angela: You said also you were not always an abstract artist.

Nancy: Right. Originally, it was more kind of figurative, maybe symbolic figurative, kind of abstracted- always very painterly but not necessarily non-objective or abstract expressionist- originally.

As an artist, I think we’re continually evolving- and so that continued to evolve over time. As artists, we’re continually facing the unknown and continually evolving in our lives and our art and I think our art mirrors that.

Angela: Yeah, I think in art- like I know one thing I realized is- here I am, I’ve been painting for 28 years in watercolor so I know what I’m doing technically but every painting I start I still start with the feeling of I don’t know how to do this.

Nancy: Yes.

Angela: And when I realized that, then it was like: Oh. I need to tell my students this because they’re beginners feeling like “I don’t know how to do this” and they think that feeling is going to to away. We just get more comfortable with living with this.

Nancy: I think so. In fact, I really, that makes me laugh because I have that same experience and it’s like what I say now is that: “And that’s exactly where we want to be”.

Angela: Yeah, yeah. And in fact, you say coming to your sculpture instructor and saying: “I don’t know what I’m doing” as though that’s the reason we should just walk away or we need to feel like somebody has to give us permission. I think we’re always waiting for that permission.

For someone to say: “Oh that’s ok that you don’t know what you’re doing, in fact it’s a good thing”- how empowering.

Nancy: Yes. And then I think that, yeah, in terms of that sense of looking for permission outside of ourselves, eventually we learn that really we need to learn to give ourselves permission. And that sense of allowing, right, allowing the risk taking, allowing the “ugly” painting, allowing the experimentation. Allowing… to not know what’s going to happen.

Angela: Yeah. And that’s a really scary thing- thinking I don’t know what’s going to happen and I think often we think it’s going to be bad. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m clearly going to ruin this blank piece of paper- so why am I even starting? I think that’s often what keeps us on the couch when we had planned to paint that evening. But there’s just that fear.

Nancy: And I think part of that, too, is just kind of developing the ability to tolerate and even embrace those paintings that kind of don’t work for us.

Angela: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that because you talk about the “ugly” painting

Nancy: I believe that those “ugly” paintings are part of, they’re so much a part of this process of experimentation- and if we can really allow them, it’s an incredible thing because, even the ones that we say: “Oh that’s so awful, it’s awful what I did, I can’t look at it…that particular piece may be the embryonic form of something new emerging.

Angela: Yeah, I love when you said that- because that gives you permission to push into that place.

Nancy: Yes.

Angela: Instead of feel shame or judged by it.

Nancy: Yeah, it may be the nidus, the seed of a whole series that comes out of that “ugly” piece and you know how, as we work in a series, we continually go deeper into evolving the work and playing off little variations and things. And that might be the nidus of it, that might be the seed.

Angela: Yeah. I have a friend who is hatching butterflies right now and she got the little larva home and she can’t, couldn’t handle the larvae- they just creeped her out so much. But she was just waiting for the day that they would make that chrysalis so she didn’t have to look at the larvae anymore. And I thought: Isn’t that the truth. We don’t want to look at that.

Nancy: That’s a great analogy.

Angela: We just want to go straight to pretty.

Nancy: Yeah. But all the phases in there are important

Angela: Yeah, you can’t crack that chrysalis open until it’s ready. Right? We kill it.

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. And a lot of times, too, I think that when it seems like you’re in that “ugly” phase or that chrysalis…and nothing seems to be happening and yet under the surface, there’s a lot happening and that’s part of the cycle of creation. It’s not all “the butterfly”. It’s sometimes the raw, immediate work and it’s the beginnings…and something in there is trying to be expressed.

Angela: Yeah. Even the times when you feel that you’re just repeating yourself, because I have my students working in series as well, work from the same image- let’s see how far we can get when we really get to know this. So we’re doing more representational stuff but trying to get to the core of our emotion about that piece.

I’ve found for myself- I have a painting that I’ve done twenty times and those first eight- almost all of them look almost identical. You know? I needed to get to a place of being really frustrated and bored- in order to break through to the next thing and that is powerful.

And so you have to live with that boredom for awhile- and feeling like you have nothing to say.

Nancy: I’ve seen so many artists doing what you were just saying right there- where you got bored. You found yourself- it was kind of repetitive in a certain way and you got really frustrated- and it’s that moment when- that can be that moment of breakthrough- where you just have nothing to lose- and then, you make a move.

Angela: Yeah. Well, if you’ve done watercolor you know that there’s only a certain amount of correcting we can do on a single piece of paper. I like to say watercolorist work in layers, it’uls just you’re doing it on different pieces of paper instead of building up paint on the canvas. So if you have a piece where you’ve messed up and you don’t think it’s redeemable- suddenly, again, you have nothing to lose and some of the best paintings come out of feeling of “Well, I might as well take that big risk because I’ve got nothing to risk here, really, because this piece is ruined” .

It’s amazing to see the authenticity that comes out of that. And maybe that’s letting go of whatever that internal fear is, or need for validation or clinging to success…a good outcome.

Nancy: Yes. And self doubt and the inner critic and all that. It’s holding onto something and trying to recreate that previous experience. That’s the challenging thing, one of them, is we’re continually having to move off of that and step into the unknown again.

I believe…this is another thing that is really powerful…that the creative impulse can be very subtle sometimes…and we can easily miss it or dismiss it.

If we get too caught up of staying in these patterns of: “Oh, this worked before, so let’s do that again” but we’re not staying awake to whatever’s trying to come through and so we’ve got to really stay open, present and tuned into those little nudges that come in.

It might be in the form of a dream or you might be walking out in nature and something excites you and you say to yourself: “Oh wow, look at that continuous line or something like that…or that shape or whatever. And something wants to be expressed and to really notice that…to allow yourself to go in and maybe go into your art journal and experiment in there.

I think what we want to cultivate is that attitude of experimentation. It’s like: Go into the thing that scares you. The fear is: I’m going to ruin it. One more move and I’m going to ruin it. Well maybe you’ve got to ruin it, so to speak.

Angela: You have things to say to encourage artists in that, that one painting that was so meaningful and so skilled for you, it’s not the only thing you’ll ever do that was good.

Nancy: Right. It lives inside of you. it will express itself, iteratively. Because it’s in you, it’ll be a slightly different form perhaps.

Angela: But better. I remember that feeling as a new artist, in those early years going: “Oh, this is the best thing I’ve ever done and then immediately going into a transition stage where I’m learning new things and everything’s failing and thinking: “Well, that’s the last thing I’ve ever done too”.

Nancy: That’s an interesting thing because I remember early on having one of those days where, maybe I was painting landscapes and it just worked really well that day and then I remember being afraid after that day to go back because what if I can’t do it as well this time? So it’s almost like a success fear.

Angela: Yeah. And it is a part of the technical side because the things we do accidentally we have to learn to do intentionally so I understand that when it comes to working technically, but yeah, but to say the beauty that came out of that painting- that’s still inside you. that gets to come out. You have to learn how to release it. That’s a great thing to share.

Nancy: Yes. And I think working in a series really helps with all of this, it helps to say Hey, it’s not precious, look, I can do twenty variations on this theme or whatever…it’s ok. I can go further on this one and “ruin it” and I can hold back on this other one or I can really raw on this one and have this range of expression.

Angela: Yeah. And your work becomes less precious when you have a lot of it, right? So if you have a thousand paintings in your past, in your body of work, it’s like: “Well, ruining one out of a thousand- no big deal. So if you’re so invested in a single painting, then they become really precious.

Nancy: Yes. And I think it’s hard for people who may be working full time, they don’t have a lot of time to paint- and so, when they do go into paint, there’s so much pressure. They put so much pressure on themselves. “I’ve gotta make this work”. That’s where I encourage people to, even if you’re working a lot and you feel like you’ve got very little time, try to work with your art journal a lot. Tell yourself: This is experimentation. This is exploratory.

Angela: Yes.

Nancy: Those kinds of words- what we say to ourselves really matters.

Angela: Oh yeah. I like to say: This is just a sketch and everything is just a sketch until it actually gets framed.

Nancy: I love it.

Angela: Or even just setting aside time and again, like you said, it’s hard when you don’t have a lot of time- but to say: I’m going to spend 5 minutes doing a warm-up or experimenting or I’m going to plan to deliberately overwork some paintings for awhile or push through to that place of just allowing yourself to go to that space to “fail”- in the name of learning, in the name of growth and recognizing that’s how it has to happen.

Nancy: Yeah. And you know, the painting you see as “failed” today, you might actually love a month or a year from now.

Angela: You talk about there being a paradox between powerlessness and transformation which I thought was really interesting and exciting – that you create deeper work when you’re leaning into that powerlessness.

Nancy: Yeah, and that’s that “allowing”- it’s just moving off of needing to control it all and just kind of opening up.

Angela: That sounds like a life lesson.

Nancy: I think it is. Just “let go”. That’s a big one.

Angela: I have three teenagers at home. I’m trying to learn that I cannot control much in my house.

Nancy: That’s an ongoing one.

Angela: Oh yeah. I think that being in that situation where things are tough, things are unsettle, you’re not in control does challenge us to confront some of those fears that we may have been living with for a long, long time.

Nancy: It’s very healing, I think to, any form of creativity- you learn so much about yourself in an ongoing way.

Angela: Yeah- so how can we ever say a painting is a failure when we’re continuing to do that looking inward, that creative therapy…and I think creative therapy is almost a catchword, like, oooh, it’s healthy for you, it’s like exercise- but if you really look at: what does that mean?

Nancy: Yeah

Angela: We can see that it impacts us powerfully. We spend, and I say this all the time, we spend so much time on self care when it comes to what we eat, and getting enough sleep and our physical bodies…when do we take care of the inward, the inner person? And I love that you’re really digging into that in The Artist’s Journey.

Nancy: Yes. Thank you. Yes. That’s what my life is about. It’s really about helping people to believe in themselves.

Angela: Yeah. And you say that, you say trust yourself. And again, that’s kind of another thing we say- so how do you dig in and actually get to that place where you know what that means in your life? Do you have suggestions for artists and keys that make it easier to do that?

Nancy: Well, I think it’s an ongoing process, I think first of all it’s about awareness. Awareness that it’s important to begin to trust yourself. Just even having that concept- and that confers a kind of sense of grace, that says it’s okay if I have a hard day, it’s okay if I go into the studio and I don’t know what to do, it’s okay if I create an “ugly” painting- and it informs the “allowing” and it informs the ability to tolerate the challenges of creating- which are: fears.

The perils of facing ourselves, all the fears of: what if it’s not good enough, what will other people think, fears of humiliation…and actually, the biggest one of all I think is our own self criticism and self doubt. More inner than outer but the inner is worried about the outer being critical as well…and I think that if we can begin to see that it is so important to begin to trust yourself, and this is an ongoing process, it’s not like it’s 100% done, but it’s a continual process…when we get to that hard edge, when we get to that ledge, it’s to remember: Oh, yeah- it’s okay. It’s okay and to not be so hard on yourself.

I believe that just living our lives and dealing with what we deal with in our lives, as well as in our art, is continually inviting us to trust ourselves…and to believe in ourselves. It helps if we have other people who support us in that, who encourage us, who guide us…to come back to that self compassion. There’s some great work by poets like David Whyte and John O’Donohue around the poetry of self compassion and Mary Oliver…

Angela: Yeah. Mary Oliver, you quoted her in your book.

Nancy: So much of her work was deep self compassion dealing with years of struggle and it’s just kind of continually remembering and reminding ourselves of that.

Angela: Yeah. I think there’s this intentional training that you have to do to just kind of keep coming back to that. I’m pretty decent at doing it to my kids- they’re teenagers, they’re pretty self condemning. So yeah, why wouldn’t I want to do that for myself as well?

Nancy: And that’s the challenge. We’re our harshest critics and so it’s continually finding and re-finding that self compassion. It’s that hard. It’s really an ongoing challenge.

Angela: Yeah. And it informs how we grow as artists because it affects whether we even go out and spend that creative time.

Nancy: Yeah. It’s valuing yourself enough to say “yes”- I want to do this, I yearn to do this and I’m going to do this. I’m going to say “yes” to this desire I have to create, whether anyone likes it or not.

Angela: To be able to say: I hear your criticism, I understand where you’re coming from and yet I get to reject that and continue to paint. Yeah. You haven’t taken the brush out of my hand.

Nancy: Yes. That just gave me goosebumps listening to you.

Angela: And I think it’s so powerful when you’re creating work that is authentic and true to who you are because it is something that endures. As I’m reading your book, the things that ring true it’s like yeah, this is someone I can talk to, this is someone who understands- and in art, we have the same thing.

Nancy: Yes, we do. And so it’s so important to hold onto yourself as an artist, to really stay in touch with yourself- allow those creative impulses, those subtle messages that want to come through- it may seem like the wildest idea, but, bring it in, and let it happen.

Angela: Welcome it.

Nancy: And I always do this kind of death bed experiment. In the end, what’s going to matter? Did you bite into it? Did you take those risks with your art? Did you get out what was inside of you?

Angela: Yeah. Throw it all out there, lay it on the line.

Nancy: Yeah. Throw it out there. Or were you afraid and were you tiptoeing around and being “gummed to death” so to speak?

Angela: You actually had a line about licking the paint and it just made me laugh. “Don’t lick the paint”.

Nancy: One of my teachers, Jim Smythe, he was just incredible- representational, beautiful Old Masters painting and he would say “don’t lick the paint” and I’d laugh uproariously.

Angela: Yeah, don’t poke it to death either. Just get in there and stab it. If you’re going to stab it, stab it, right?

Nancy: Yeah. Go in, lay it down and leave it alone.

Angela: Was it Birgit O’Connor, she said: Kill it or cure it.

Nancy: I like that.

Angela: There’s so much. You said just a moment ago: Paintings are a mirror. I often tell students “I can see your indecision. I can see you got a little lost in this area. It’s so amazing how honest- I always thought it was a quality of watercolor being transparent, it reveals a lot. But I love that idea that art is honest, it shows, it shows who you are, even when you don’t think that it is.

Nancy: Yeah. And it really does reflect it back, and if you’re feeling very anxious it will show that. If you’re feeling unsure, it will reflect that back. Then we ask: Do you want to be decisive? So we go in and make a move and get out…and it’s okay. We do a lot of “starts” in this experimentation.

Angela: Right. In watercolor I think is the first layer is always very exciting. And then there’s the middle stage where the indecision catches up with you and it’s like “Ok, now I don’t know what to do with it”. It’s so beautiful and now I have to worry about ruining this beautiful beginning.

And you mentioned, something about continuing in the same spirit in which you started.

Nancy: Yes. So these are subtle things but we try to go back in with that similar energy (in which we first started)…and there’s a dialogue between the spontaneous and the considered. We do a lot of stream of consciousness mark-making, automatism, automatic drawing and then we go in further and there’s that flux, that editing so to speak, and that’s when some “considered”, some thinking…comes into play, some thinking, but we want to really be in that dance between the spontaneous and the considered, we want to stay as intuitive as we can and so that’s a lot of how we work in this expressionist way.

Angela: Yeah, now for me as a watercolor instructor a lot of my students are painting representational subjects so we want to paint a representational subject- we want to take a landscape and we want to abstract it just enough to show our emotions about it and yet still have some actual representation of things- so there’s this challenge, too, of that balance of- I’ve got to make it look like a tree and yet I’ve also got to make it look like me and how do we find that- there’s a tension there.

Nancy: Yeah, yes…very much so, very challenging. I’ve been in there too, I was doing figures and horses and landscapes.

Angela: One way we approach that is- be willing to make a bunch of versions and explore all the possibilities and follow that stream of consciousness because at least then your confidence is going to come through and aren’t we much more able to show who we are when we have confidence?

Nancy: Yeah. And then you kind of get into that flow state and some of them will surprise you- that’s part of working in a series or creating “starts”- something surprising could come through because you start to get in it and you start to get out of the “thinker” mode and the critic mode- so that’s what we’re trying to access.

Angela: Yes, you talked about the strategic mind an intuition and who’s ruling the painting really? we need strategies but we also, we have to make room for that intuition to kind of lead…

Nancy: Yeah. So it’s a very interesting tension and dance- a conversation.

Angela: It is a dance, yeah. That is a good way to look at it for sure- that back and forth.

“To create deeply is to enter into and allow the emergence of the unknowable”

I think there’s a little fear sometimes that when we dig deep into who we are as artists, there’s going to be a bunch of cobwebs and nothing else.

So I love being able to encourage artists that that’s just not the case. You get to find wonderful things when you get down to the heart of who you are- into that unknowing place.

Nancy: Yes.

Angela: To find that deeper self.

Nancy: Yes. And a big part is allowing the pieces where we say…”Hmmm…this is not me, this is unfamiliar…or the ones we might want to reject…it’s actually saying, No…this is really great too…as well as these ones that I love. It’s all of it. It’s kind of the Jungian concept of the shadow. There was a famous psychiatrist, Harry Stack Sullivan who talked about the “good me, the bad me and the not me”.

Angela: Yes. I’m ok with the good and the bad but the “not me” is like, yeah, we don’t want any association with it…

Nancy: We’re not that at all, right?

Angela: Yeah, interesting.

Nancy: So it’s kind of trying to allow, really allowing the thing that you’re most afraid of.

Angela: Yeah

Nancy: Which is: the ruined painting, the “ugly” painting, the mediocre painting- as well as all the other stuff that you love.

I think that that’s where these interesting intersections happen, overlaps, the tension between the “ugly” and the pretty, things that surprise us…and sometimes, because you allowed that and you allowed that painting to “live” and you saw…ooh, actually there’s something kind of interesting here. And something that at first eye was kind of rejecting.

Angela: Yeah, absolutely. There are paintings that we love and that inspire us from the first moment and later we’re “Ah, it’s kind of bland, actually”- I’ve had that happen…and then there are pieces that your’e not really sure what to do with but maybe- I don’t know if this is good or not but then you start to get to know it and you become familiar with what redeems it and makes it special and then, yeah- those “ugly” ones that just might have something after all and might just be indicating a new direction that you’re just not ready to understand yet.

Nancy: The new, the unfamiliar, at first we may reject-  because it’s “other”, it’s different.

Angela: Yeah, I had a student email me and say: Oh, that one lesson in that course made me so angry and I didn’t want to do anything you said there. I said: Guess what? That particular lesson is going to be the most valuable thing you get out of this course, just be patient with it. There’s something there that was getting her hackles up.

Nancy: That’s right. There’s some energy there, right? I’ve noticed that too, where- that’s kind of like the refusal on the journey- where we’re going along and something new arises and oftentimes we may refuse it because it’s unfamiliar- and yet it might be the very thing we might need to go into.

I remember for me I used to kind of refuse the grid concept or constraint in terms of color palette, a limited palette. But eventually I realized, wow, the power in constraint- there’s an infinity of possibility within a constraint.

Angela: Yes. I’m the same and I’ve tried to encourage students that you can do whatever interests you and you can set aside whatever it is that is uncomfortable but at the same time always staying open and be willing to be surprised by what comes up.

Nancy: Yes, always stay open.

Angela: Yeah, there’s a tension there. Learn what you need and you can learn what you need to know but also recognize that adopting that stuff that’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar is going to lead to growth as well.

Nancy: Yeah. And I love what you’re saying about kind of redeeming a painting and really isn’t that reflective of life? Sometimes we have to redeem things…and then there are those paintings- I love this, it’s a German concept and it’s called “durch komponiert” and it means “through composed” and there are some things that are just kind of “durch komponiert” from the get go- have you had this experience where some paintings are just “all there” at every phase?

Angela: Oh yeah.

Nancy: And you could stop anywhere…you could stop in the underpainting or the dark/light Notan…or you could continue on…and at any point you could stop. And those are those magical paintings…they just kind of paint themselves…

Angela: It’s all supposed to be like this, every time : )

Nancy: And then there are those other paintings, just the opposite where you’re like Beowulf grappling down Grendel, the monster Grendel and you’re fighting to the death and only at the very end do you pull it out and redeem it.

Angela: The Germans probably have a word for that too!

Nancy: They probably do.

Angela: Yeah, and it’s this non-stop battle, absolutely. And so you just don’t know and that’s a great reason to paint no matter what how you feel, right? Creativity is great really, it’s a relationship that’s continually changing and growing…and it’s so rewarding as well.

Nancy: Yes. That gets at the adjacent possible when you said it’s continually growing and I thought about that concept from evolutionary biology- Stuart Kauffman and Bruce Sawhill and Jim Herriott elaborated this- and it’s basically this you take a step and that step opens up possibilities. Each step opens up unforeseen possibilities that only happen by taking the step.

Angela: And in a painting, we’re the hero. We get to decide which of those infinite possibilities we’re going to follow. And I guess that’s where experience gives us the ability to chase more of those or to have more strategies to experience those possibilities more broadly and be intentional about which ones we’re going to follow. And it shouldn’t always be safe…changing the world doesn’t happen when we’re safe.

Nancy: Yes, deep experimentation- continually.

Angela: And knowing that sometimes it’s ok to find that safe place and just breathe again.

Nancy: Yes.

Angela: And to see where you’ve come from in all that risk taking and all that mistake making. And when you go to your safe place you go: Oh, my safe place is now better and richer because I’m bringing with it these new things that I learned in the battle.

Nancy: It’s great.

Angela: It’s kind of addictive to teach on it isn’t it?

Nancy: Yes, it is.

Angela: Now you’re just opening up your course…The Artist’s Journey

Nancy: So The Artist’s Journey: 3 Secrets of the Masters is open continually and we have people come in every day. We’ve got an incredible group in there and it’s wonderful. And then the Masterclass is something that I give at different times. I just finished up the Masterclass- it’s a 12 Art Module very intensive course where I give a weekly “live” session (in addition to the course) for 8 weeks straight. I go through it with them, I’m taking the course as well and then I notice what I notice during the week as I’m going through the module and then I have that “live” talk where I say “Here’s some aha’s I’ve had, some revelations” because as you paint you realize: Oh this is something that another person may get some value out of that maybe they don’t know, things that it took years to learn- and share that. So that was incredibly fun and we just finished that up. The Masterclass will come back around probably in the summer or fall.

And I’ve got the book The Artists’ Journey and the Audiobook just came out.

Angela: Ok, Audiobook. Do you do in person classes as well? Do you travel and teach a bit?

Nancy: Yes, so I am going to have a live, in person workshop in October. October 20-25 and I’ll be announcing that soon. It will be here in northern California, I’m here in Santa Cruz.

Angela: So if people wanted to find out more about your classes, workshops they can look you up online. You’re nancyhillis.com, correct?

Nancy: That’s correct.

Angela: We’ll make sure we link that up in the show notes. And your book, I can’t say enough great things about it. Your book is so inspiring to me- just little light bulb moments helping me to be much more fearless in my own artistic process and I think it has application for every level of the artistic journey because we’re always wanting to be more intentional about what we learn and how we learn it.

You talk about creation being a connection between the immortal and divine and I thought: That’s our connection with something that is profoundly Godlike- to be able to vision and create worlds on our paper and make tangible- intangible things.

Nancy: Yes. It gets at the mystery- the inarticulable, the ineffable- all of that.

Angela: Yeah, I can’t remember if it was in your book- that, there’s a veil there between the invisible and the visible world.

Nancy: Yeah, it is in there.

Angela: And we get to poke some holes in it and let a little bit shine through. How could we not want to do that and be a part of that? It’s a good thing. Thank you so much for being willing to talk to me about this. I know you’re going to see some hits on your website from this and I’d love to do The Artist’s Journey as part of my Fearless Artist Website Book Club >>> www.fearlessartist.net 

Book Club starts July 1.

I’d like to go through the book with the students and help motivate and encourage them that way.

We’ll encourage them to leave a review on Amazon because I know that really helps your book sales as well. I hope it’s selling well for you, I think it’s such a fantastic resource for artists, for all artists. We’re watercolorists but it applies to so much, to so many creatives I think.

Nancy: Yes, thank you so much. Yes, it’s been a best seller and I get emails every day from people and it’s so rewarding to me to hear from people saying that it was so helpful and meaningful to them and that was what I was hoping for. Yes, and it does help, the reviews really do help.

Yes, I really appreciate your reaching out to me.

Angela: Thank you for being willing to be here. If I’m ever in northern California I’m going to seek you out and we’re going to sit down and have a coffee and a chat.

Nancy: Come see me. I’d love it, I’d love to meet you in person.

Angela: Good. I wish you so many good things. I can’t wait to see where your artist’s journey takes you next- hopefully there will be more books and more courses on this mission to empower artists and help them be their most authentic selves- it’s the most addictive and fulfilling thing and I love that you’re doing it. So, thank you so much.

Nancy: Thank you so much.

The Artist's Journey Book-Nancy Hillis, MD | Available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Bookshop Santa Cruz

The Artist’s Journey Book-Nancy Hillis, MD


Angela Fehr on her YouTube channel writes: Order Nancy’s book on Amazon.com (affiliate link): https://amzn.to/2MHK9aZ Don’t forget to leave a review!

With gratitude from my studio to yours,
P.S. Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.
Nancy Hillis-The Artists Journey Live Abstract Painting Workshop-1440 Multiversity #creativity #mindfulness #abstract

Nancy Hillis-The Artists Journey Live Abstract Painting Workshop-1440 Multiversity


P.S.S.: Big News! I’m giving a live abstract painting workshop October 20-25, 2019 at 1440 Multiversity in the Santa Cruz, California mountains! You can check it out here: https://1440.org/programs/creative-expression/the-artists-journey/

 Get your copy of Nancy's books!


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